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Research Trivia

Hidden messages in Toi Acid Game for Atari ST

Trying the Atari ST version of the Toi Acid Game (which as some of you will know was rescued by its own graphic designer José Luis Correa, thanks to The Punisher), I found it strange that its main menu featured a “Compressed by Dwarf Crunching” in plain sight.

In the case of a game that never saw the light, it didn’t seem possible that it could have been pirated, so… what was that “Dwarf Crunching” about? I had to investigate.

As soon as we open the file in a hexadecimal editor, we already find the following:

Master and compacting done by Dwarf Crunchers. Greetings to Hack MC. Regards to everyone from track 81

In addition to mentioning the master of the game, they take the opportunity to greet the music composer and programmer in a good mood. It really doesn’t seem like a message added by a regular group of hackers.

But that’s not all, the best awaits towards the end of the disc. First of all, a brief paragraph thanks to which we can give the official mastered game a date:

Today is February 90 and we are in the Dwarf House. Vangelis' 'Direct' is playing on the record player. We have finally finished this master, and the truth is that, whether we like the game or not, the end result is charming.

The message continues later, confirming even more that it is not a group in favor of piracy:

Well, taking advantage of the space we have left, we want to direct some words to all the pirates that swarm there. You have been very lucky that it wasn't profitable to protect this disk, because we all know that after destroying the protections of a few games you learn a lot about what's easy and what's difficult to open, and Devpac 2 is not omnipotent. However, since we're depriving you of the pleasure of learning a few things about exception vectors and trace modes, cryptography, jump tables and dirty tricks where you least expect it, we challenge you to prepare a cruncher that's capable of significantly reducing the space that the game occupies on the disk. If, like AUTOMATION, LSD, SHARAZ JEK ..., you have your own or adapted cruncher, try it, but we assure you that you have little future. Botched jobs as in 'Robocop' are not our forte. Anyway, as this is not a personal war with you, there will be no grudges when pirate copies of this game come out, but if you can not improve the game in any way and have the balls to change the credits of the game in your desire for notoriety, you will have news from us in Gijon, Barcelona, ​​Madrid, Duerkheim, etc... On the other hand, if you have the bad taste of putting a good intro in this game, it would be nice if you behaved and sent it here.

So, in effect, the “Dwarf Crunchers” were officially responsible for compressing and creating the masters of the games that were sent to them, sometimes protecting them against the hordes of pirates. (What would they mean by “the botched job in Robocop”? 🤔)

And it doesn’t end here:

As we have more room than roll, we fill in a list of computer smileys (for lay people, they are used to mark jokes in email, and you look at them tilting your head): {:-) Standard smiley. {:-( pissed off. {.-) one-eyed. {;-) winking an eye. {: -Q smoking. [: |] robot. & :-) Smiley's girlfriend. & ;-) flirtatious. {P-) with patch. {: -B toothy. {8-) with glasses. & B-) her too. {:-\ worried. {:-)) with double chin. {: -? asking. (:-) bald. = |: -) = Uncle Sam. - :-) punk. = :-( true punk. {: ^) with a crooked nose. {: v) for the other side. (O-J frog man.> :-) disheveled. 7:-) dolled up. {: - [Dracula. {: -E toothy Dracula. {:-D happy. {: -L other smoker. {:-@ tongue twister. { -) blind. {: -b tongue out. ) :-( horned. And we turn to the children of Smiley: {:) him. &:) her. {8) nerd. & B) idem. {: B toothy. {: I guzzler. &: Q don't get caught! {:-) 8 with bow tie. (, Go bald, one-eyed man guiding his eye, with crooked nose and toothy vampire... huff, huff! O {:-) Holy. {: -6 disgusted. We hope you liked it, but we recognize that few were made by us. The latest yankee lists collect more than 300 smileys, including the Siamese brothers (-: I :-), the multi-line clown (it's hard to read, we include 16 and 30 characters per line on the disk monitor): ### (: o) ### ### (: o) ###, and many really spectacular others. If you want more, look for them in the next appearances of: DWARF CRUNCHERS. Dwarf are Max Bedroom and GUIK (God Uses Inglish! Keyboards, greetings to Roger Cabezas). See you, okay?

A masterful smilies lesson in 1990! It seems that Dwarf Crunchers were also ahead of their time in their homeland. For the curious, the “clown” would look like this with a column width of 16 characters:


Unfortunately, although we already have an idea of ​​what they were doing and have the nicknames of their two members, there seems to be no information about them on the Internet of the 21st century. Until someone can give us some more information, their participation in other projects will remain an unsolved mystery…

Ah, there are still a couple more things after the long message!

Some greetings:


And the final climax:

You are more lost than a louse on Yul Brynner's head


The Dwarf Crunchers are none other than Javier Arévalo and Juan Carlos Arévalo. Javier tells us on Twitter:

Javier Arévalo
Hahaha it's incredible that there's a mystery of the "Dwarf Crunchers". But yes, it was my brother and I!

I think the only person who had seen these hidden messages so far is @C4RL05 :D
No, we didn't master any more games. What we had already done (referred to in the text) was to "destroy the protections" of several games, without giving names: their Spanish distributor sold them unprotected because they had no duplicator that could perform the protections :D
From time to time we hanged at Iber, which was close to my University, and I remember some conversations about memory problems in their Los Inhumanos game. But curiously I don't remember anybody's faces or names. We were never very sociable...
What the text says about Robocop's botched job, I don't remember the details, but generally when a game was very well protected and compressed, the crackers had problems because their cracked version could occupy more than the original and not fit in a single floppy.
So they had no choice but to remove things from the game to put it back on a disc. Surely, the pirate version of Robocop in ST would lack intro, or music, or something like that.
Javier Arévalo

Mr. @ICEknigh7 found the hidden messages we left in the master disc of an Atari ST game back in 1990.

Our job was to compress the game from 3 floppies into one. We used the leftover space in the disc to leave messages and a list of smileys. There are some ST scene names in there

All the compression smarts were my brother’s job, I did mostly plumbing.

JCAB’s words: “The I was so proud of the compressor… A somewhat optimized version of a brute force locator of common bit (I think) substrings. Very slow to compress (hours) [game was about 350Kb] but blazing fast on decompression.”

Javier Arévalo
It was my brother who studied the subject of data compression, and he programmed the compressor and decompressor. I did things like packing the decompressor and the data together, something like a removable auto zip

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